Battle of the Brands: WWE Survivor Series

Having the WWE network is what it would be like having a pizza place in my basement: I don’t always want pizza, but I’d eat it at any time and enjoy it. This is what the network does so well; it offers me something I like all the time while also being there with a nice big Sunday meal when a monthly event rolls around.

This month was one of the original big four events, Survivor Series. (Wrestlemania, Summer Slam, and Royal Rumble are the others) The original concept was an event where four random wrestlers (I know, I know, they’re called superstars now) would form a team and slug it out with another four guys in an elimination match. It was a cool concept; WWE has found a solid way to honour and update it by taking the randomness out of the matches and making the night a contest between the two WWE brands, Smackdown and RAW. Only two of the matches were the traditional elimination style, but this year we did see a full run-down of champion vs champion contests that, going in, all looked great.

Before I review further, for all the “smarks” (smart marks) in the room, yes, the premise of there only being one show a year where WWE stars from both brands come together and fight each other doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. Nor does the idea that guys who hate each other in storylines will suddenly put that aside, grab a blue or red shirt, and stand shoulder to shoulder over “brand supremacy” make a whole lot of sense (really, WTF does a character like Braun Strowman care about his brand?), but once you suspend your disbelief a little more than normal and let the concept get itself through, you have a great night of wrestling to watch.

I’ll start with the highlights: AJ Styles versus Brock Lesnar was the best match Lesnar has had in ages. No suprise there, as Styles could get a good match out of anyone living or dead, but it’s worth saying just the same. This match told a story, got both guys over and delivered the expected result with enough drama that you bought it. Going in to this, I don’t think anyone expected AJ to get out with a win/his life. The way AJ bumps in the ring and the terrifying strength of Brock Lesnar posed the question of how to craft a match where AJ came off looking like a genuine threat to Lesnar while keeping Lesnar strong for his expected showdown with Roman Reigns at Wrestlemania.

The answer was to play to both mens’ ring strengths: Brock tossed AJ around like a ragdoll; AJ kept moving and isolated the big man’s leg to set him up for the Calf Crusher submission hold. It was logical, believable and both guys sold everything they got hit with. Bonus points go to Brock for his escape from the Crusher after simply smashing AJ’s head into the ring over and over and over until he let go and to AJ for not kicking out of the F5. That extra touch was key as it continues to put the F5 over as a “one and done” finish, so that when Roman inevitably kicks out of it, it means something. Brock winning made sense and him limping out of the ring to sell his injury shows how much respect the big man had for his opponent. It was a tremendous match.

Honourable mentions for great work have to go to The Usos and The Bar in their champions vs. champions tag team match. Both teams worked their asses off, came up with innovative moves and, again, delivered a logical and believable finish. Extra credit for the flying to the outside/tope tag in by the Usos to set up the finish of the match.

New Day lost to the Shield in a match with six guys that disinterest me as performers.

Asuka kicked ass in the womens elimination match, as she should.

Charlotte beat Alexa Bliss, as she should.

And Baron Corbin beat The Miz in a match that was al lright, but was hard to get behind with two unlikeable heels working against each other. That said, End of Days is the coolest finisher I’ve seen in a long time and both Miz and Bo Dallas sold it like death.

The big finale came in the super stacked five-on-five traditional elimination men’s match featuring Team RAW vs. Team Smackdown. The match began with both brands tied at four wins, good booking, so whoever won was going to hold bragging rights (remember when that was a PPV?) until the next year’s event. The teams were an exciting blend of established and upcoming talent: RAW featured Finn Balor, Braun Strowman, Somoa Joe, GM Kurt Angle (who looks to be in fantastic ring shape) and last minute edition, WWE COO Triple H. On the Smackdown squad were Shane McMahon, Bobby Roode, Shinsuke Nakamura, Randy Orton and John Cena.

The entrances alone took 20 minutes, but once everyone settled in, a well-booked main event took shape. RAW had Strowman; Smackdown had the explosive charisma of Nakamura. RAW had the experience and guile of HHH; Smackdown had the out-of-nowhere win machine that is the RKO. WWE knew what this match needed to be and they let it happen: cool face offs between new and older talents, big spots, crowd participation (“Come on,” “Glorious” and “Suck it” all popped the roof right off) and moments that move forward story lines on each show. The twist ending—with HHH taking out Kurt Angle, only to also then pin Shane McMahon ensuring RAW victory—was somewhat clunky, but it left lots on the table. Will Hunter and Angle face of at Mania? Man, I hope so. For everyone that complains about young talent not getting over, just watch HHH in that ring and tell me why he shouldn’t be working the biggest event of the year in a major role.

Also, Braun Strowman looks like he might be getting the “gray area baby face” treatment, the prospect of Balor vs. Joe in the near future is something all the indie marks out there should be really happy about, and Shinsuke Nakamura is so over, it’s nuts.

Overall, with some PVR fast forwards and skipping the pre-show, this was one of the smoothest and most enjoyable events that WWE has put out this year. The matches were great, the stories moved forward and the crowd was into it. Now we just have to forget that everybody shares a change room and gets along so they can get back to wanting to punch each other in the head.

From parts unknown, cheers.

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